Category Archives: Faith in the Marketplace

Sawasdee-cup from a Chiang Mai Global BAM Congress Delegate

Sawasdee (pronounced sa-wa-dtee) cup (spoken by men, Sawasdee ca by women) is the most common Thai greeting, stated with both hands flat together in front of the chest and a slight bow. It originates from the Sanskrit and means “well being,” much as shalom does in Hebrew.

As I await my departure to the airport to began the long journey home to Atlanta, Georgia, it is not at all difficult to know where to begin in reflecting on the Global BAM (business-as-mission) Congress that just wrapped up yesterday (April 28, 2012) in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I must begin in worship and praise for our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. If ever I have been encouraged and energized for God’s mission in the world, this conference was likely my greatest experience on those lines. It was humbling to meet so many who are laying down their lives for those suffering the dehumanizing life of poverty, and especially those victimized by human trafficking.

Some 530 delegates gathered from more countries than I can recount (I am sure a final tally will eventually become known) from all around the world from every continent save Antarctica. The keynote speakers and break out session presenters addressed the issue group concerns as each group prepares to submit final reports in June after a year long, transnational virtual think tank collaboration. There were sixteen issue groups in all (see at http://bamthinktank.org/process/) and it became apparent there could easily have been groups developed around many, many more! I was blessed to have taken part in two issue groups during the think tank phase – advocacy and mobilization (how do we get the global Church engaged in being Christ in and through the marketplace?) and biblical models (laying a sound theological and biblical foundation on which a solid “house” of BAM can be constructed as we go forward). If you have read much of my blog, you know the biblical and theological cases are very near my heart. I have said repeatedly, “You would never build a house without a sure foundation, but this one is being built on the Rock.”

More importantly than even the thought work to come of it, the Congress was about creating new and solidifying old connections among colleagues in the business-as-mission movement. Before, between, and after sessions, it seemed I found myself in one-to-one meetings, all but one entirely unplanned but perfectly arranged and timed by the Holy Spirit, from breakfast to midnight almost everyday. I now have covenant bonds with a church-planting brother in Pakistan, a pastor-cum-BAMmer transitioning in South Korea, and an academic leader from Down Under, to note but three. But there are many more I spent time with, sharing in the glow of Christ’s presence among us and seeking his guidance as we move together, many workers joined to one commitment: the Kingdom of God, coming even now on earth as it is in heaven. It is apparent, God has a purpose in all and each of these new relationships.

The worship sessions each morning were among the most anointed I have ever experienced. There was no division of denominations or national boundaries here. Here was one voice, of many origins, nations, and languages, joined together, five hundred strong, lifting praises to a God more glorious and loving than we can ever imagine. If nothing else occurred in Chiang Mai, that Christ was lifted up assures us that the Word goes forth and we are promised that it shall not return void of accomplishing everything God desires.

I spent a bit of time shopping in the night market where street vendors, traditional stores, and restaurants cater to local residents and tourists alike. The sights, the sounds, the bright lights and electronic billboards, and the bustling bodies moving between the curb-parked vendor carts and the storefronts, mixed with the sudden appearance but ever present temples strewn throughout the city, all lent to an energy and feel typical of Asian life.

But nearby, and far too prevalent, the karaoke bars and massage parlors, fronts for extensive prostitution, sadly a major tourist “attraction” in Thailand, are never far from one’s awareness while observing this dynamic city. Of hope, however, a small café, the Zion Café, sits right next door to a brothel just around the corner from the Congress’ hotel. You see, the Zion Café is a Christian business, a business-as-mission, an intentionally planted business that seeks out and welcomes the young women of its surrounding neighborhood into a safe, embracing relationship and space amidst a local culture, broken like so many others around the world. A new friend and I ate dinner there our first night in the city. It was as if breathing fresh, mountain air after coming in from an oppressing smog. Here, in the Zion Café, an unassuming corner restaurant nestled in the din of Chiang Mai, a ground-zero point itself in the center of the East, the Light of Christ shines forth. Please keep the wonderful folk operating the Zion Café in your prayers for surely they were called to this city, this neighborhood, and this very building for such a time as this, as a line of rescue thrown out to all God’s children.

I have said several times in the last two days that when I arrive home, sometime tomorrow, it will take me thirty minutes to unpack my luggage and six months to unpack the BAM Congress. More likely, and I hope it is so, it will take me the rest of my life!

I met some folk here who, to me, are giants in the global BAM and tentmaking movements – Mats, Jo, Patrick, Dwight, Peter, and too many others to even recall offhand. Some I had communicated with before electronically but it was grand to put a face, a voice, a smile, and a handshake with the name and person I had come to know before. Some I met for the first time. In every case, I was blessed by their humility and tirelessness. These folk are true heroes comparable to David’s mighty men in Israel. I was humbled as well by how little my faith and service to God, the Church, and the world has cost me practically and in risk compared to these venturing boldly and directly in through the gates of hell, assured that that those gates will not prevail against the Church but always mindful of the evil intent and wiliness of Satan.

You might note that I did not include their last names here. Most of those named are people who need not be too concerned but many of the Congress delegates live very dangerous lives in places where Christians are routinely persecuted and even run the risk of a death sentence if found out. There was even a subtle “sign” each one wore that revealed to us all, as we moved about our sessions and common spaces in the hotel, that these folk need our prayers and a discerning level of sensitive protection from the rest of us. We were repeatedly exhorted not to photograph them nor to post Congress photos online. The Congress organizing committee will publish a great deal but not until every photograph and document has been thoroughly vetted to protect these precious, anonymous servants of Christ.

In the end, I will summarize (for now!): Since beginning my own journey with Christ into the marketplace in 1993, I have been convinced it is land ripe for Kingdom reclamation and dear to God’s heart. That I was, at that time, being drawn into a global movement of the Holy Spirit, I was entirely unaware for a decade. But while I was in seminary, God drew to me begin studying and understanding his economic plan for humankind and the rest of creation. That journey led to the publication of Eden’s Bridge: The Marketplace in Creation in Mission last year, and led me to Chiang Mai this month. I have never seriously questioned that I was being caught up in God’s marketplace movement but if anyone attending the Congress came with even a hint of doubt, surely they are leaving not only with no doubt but also a revived energy to be a blessing to all nations through the wealth-creating power of the marketplace and the just use of all God’s blessings among the global poor.

I, and many, many others, will be encouraging marketplace ministry participation by the whole body of Christ in the coming months and years. We will be preparing and presenting seminars, vision tours, and information portals to help you on your journey into these areas, as you are so called by God. Seek the Lord’s heart and wisdom and seek us out. We are prepared, having heard the call, and said “Yes and Amen, Lord, send me.” There are many of us who can help you connect to “the front lines” of this aggressive war in an arena too long influenced (and largely “owned”) by the enemy. You can contact me directly through my website (www.edensbridge.org) or any number of other organizations you will find if you simply Google “business as mission.”

That is all for now but there is surely more to come for so much is yet to be said. Be blessed and intentionally be a blessing “unto all the nations.” Shalom. – Dave. 

6 Comments

Filed under Faith in the Marketplace

An Overview of Marketplace Ministry (MPM) Models

Eleven Integrated Models, Transforming the World through the Marketplace

(Please also read Bridge Ministry: The Twelfth MPM Model.)

As awareness grows and conversations increase concerning God’s current movement in the global marketplace, diverse strains of ministries are emerging into eleven distinct but integrated forms. This proliferation and resulting integration are grounded fundamentally in the underlying biblical and theological understanding of business as an institution created by God in the original order, now tainted by the universally corrupting influence of sin, and vital to our understanding the advancement of God’s Kingdom as we participate in God’s mission in the world.

Varying levels of integration, such as crossing the boundaries between workplace ministries and leadership discipleship, or between business as mission (BAM) and microfinance, will become increasingly evident as disciplines and protocols developed to pursue a particular agenda will be applicable in others.

The aim here is not to delve into the biblical or theological underpinnings of these models, nor is it to investigate the various interconnections between models. The purpose is merely to offer some differentiation and work toward a comprehensive listing of models. This last is the motivation to invite readers, aware of any marketplace ministry initiative, to examine these model categories and suggest other models that may not be represented. Also, readers are encouraged to address any key elements missing from these brief, introductory descriptions. Treat this document as a “first draft” and, please, contribute your comments to flesh it out.

My identification of this entire movement as marketplace ministry (MPM) is motivated by seeing some unifying effort to help make practitioners in one pursuit aware of others such that the lessons learned across the spectrum can be shared and understood by all, whether applicable directly or indirectly. Given the grandeur of God’s mission in the world and the universal scope of marketplace participation by all humankind, this is a very, VERY large conversation but one that can be most helpful if we can bring it to greater clarity by establishing some framework of order for analysis and planning.

I.                 Tentmaking (TM)

Generally, tentmaking is focused on individuals who take work in a particular mission context to facilitate their presence for the purposes of evangelization in their local communities. Their vocation may supply all, part, or even very little to none of their actual support. This model, particularly when used as a guise to enter countries otherwise closed to Christian evangelism, may be perceived as deceptive (which it is to varying degrees) and can contribute to deepening political and religious persecution of the indigenous church where they take up residence. That is not to say that all tentmakers practice deception or are hiding behind a “front” to gain access to their neighbors and cities. But it is a model that especially should be approached with a great deal of prayer and wisdom.

However, in a very real sense, all Christians working in the marketplace are tentmakers if our normal work provides our support for daily living and contributes to our ability to perform ministry, whether inside our professional life or through volunteerism and such outside work hours.

II.              Business as Mission (BAM)

BAM initiatives are businesses started specifically to fulfill multiple purposes simultaneously but specifically as Kingdom-oriented and outreach endeavors. These businesses typically plan for and execute according to a quadruple bottom line: people (fulfilling an economic / market need in the community), planet (creation care), program (relational evangelism and discipleship ministry) and profit (sustainability).

Typically, BAM is understood to function through three basic models, including microeconomic development (MED), small-to-medium enterprises (SME), and overseas private equity (OPE). MED is proliferating rapidly among the poor as small investments or loans (microlending) supply enough working capital to create a small business designed to support just the entrepreneur and / or their family. SME’s require more capital and typically create more jobs within a community. Unlike many MED initiatives, which can fly under the radar of local and national governmental regulations (in the informal market), SME’s tend to be formal businesses which operate under those same regulations and are more fully integrated into their local and national economies and on tax rosters to support local infrastructure and other amenities like public education. OPE’s are the largest of BAM initiatives and can require considerable sums, often more than a million dollars, to build factories, establish sizable workforces, and so on.

SME’s and OPE’s are very useful tools for creating legitimate businesses that contribute to the common good in countries that would otherwise be closed to Christian presence. The evangelization efforts of Christian owners and operators of these businesses is most often conducted through building long term relationships with employees, customers, vendors, public officials, and their at-large communities.

III.            Workplace Discipleship (WPD)

Workplace discipleship ministries cover a broad range of ministry within a particular workplace or company from informal, voluntary prayer ministry to ethics training coordinated through human resource departments, to company-offered counseling support and chaplain availability. These ministries are established, or at least endorsed, by the ownership or management of the company. Prayer ministries can include scheduled prayer groups and meetings, submitting prayer requests to volunteer intercessors, and prayer request posting boards. Prayer ministries carry a certain burden concerning privacy issues that may be of concern to human resource professionals, hence prayer requests should be kept confidential.

Other forms of workplace discipleship include conducting (or allowing) Bible studies to take place in the workplace (before or after hours, or at lunch time), providing ethics training (conducted either by internal personal, such as a Human Resources program or by bringing in outside expertise), providing counseling for any number of afflictions or life troubles (including treating addictions or to minister to those grieving the loss of a loved one or co-worker), and even providing chaplaincy services.

IV.             Executive / Business Leader Discipleship

Business leadership ministries focus on this defined group specifically to address problems unique to leadership positions in the marketplace to advance the spiritual formation of business leaders and executives, hold group members accountable to the tenets of their Christian faith, and to offer collaborative business strategizing and problem solving opportunities in a confidential environment. These groups address a broad range of biblical and theological concerns, like spiritual formation, and offering peer-counsel for finding the wisdom to inform ethics, decision-making, and strategic planning.

V.               Financial Stewardship Training

While John Wesley famously said we should “Make all you can [ethically], save all you can [frugally], and give all you can [charitably],” these ministries help both households and the very wealthy focus on managing their income and fortunes in keeping with biblical principles. All of these programs embrace core biblical financial concepts like tithing, frugality, and generosity. Household management ministries help individuals and couples understand God’s view of their income and to develop long-term strategies for providing for both current and future needs of families, whether how to deal with mortgage and car payments, build savings, or plan for college and retirement costs. Wealth management programs help participants understand the obligations before God of the enormous blessings he has poured into their lives and how best to leverage their wealth, and especially their giving, to have the greatest impact for advancing God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

VI.             Workforce Development (WFD)

These ministries fulfill two primary purposes: equipping workers, especially those without fundamental job skills and education, and connecting those in employment transition with hiring organizations. Some ministries in this classification also extend classroom training to small business operators and owners in developing economies to help them grasp the core disciplines of business creation and development – strategic planning, financial control, marketing, employee, customer, and vendor relations, and so on. There are a rising number of workforce development ministries that offer participants preparation for general equivalency diploma (GED) testing. Some also offer basic courses in computer programs in wide use and in high demand in the business world, such as Microsoft Word and Excel. Offerings may also include workplace etiquette, basic customer service attitude and skills training, and even address issues of personal hygiene.

Several workforce networking programs have come into being or grown dramatically in the United States and other regions affected by the most recent global economic crisis. Displaced workers are encouraged to attend networking events and take part in job transition seminars where they can, in the first case, connect with others in their particular industries or specialties, and, in the second, develop job search strategies, brush up on creating the most powerful resume’ or LinkedIn profile, or attend job fairs with many hiring companies present. Often both these type of ministries – job preparation training and job transition – are facilitated by, and even take place, in local churches.

VII.          Enterprise Coaching and Mentoring (ECM)

These ministry efforts match the skills and experience of business practitioners one-to-one with those in poor economies or redeveloping areas (in developed economies, areas such as inner city neighborhoods or among the rural poor) attempting to develop small businesses but lacking access to formal business education. Historically, fulfilling this ministry has been proving one of the most difficult to accomplish for two reasons. First, a lack of awareness among Christian business leaders of the needs and opportunities, even within their own contexts, has left many with great ministry potential idle. Second, problems of skills mismatching (corporate types attempting to coach entrepreneurial endeavors outside their particular areas of expertise or with thinking through how to adapt their knowledge to a very different context and application) and paternalism (which could to often be classified as over-lording when business leaders attempt to “take over” versus coming alongside those they are intending to minister to) lead to failures that may prove very difficult to overcome, especially on the “recipient” end of these transactions.

ECM can take many forms including business planning assistance (helping inexperienced entrepreneurs formulate and think through the numerous facets of business creation and operation), personal and professional development (whether by individual coaching or via classroom-based programs to equip inexperienced entrepreneurs with essential skill sets and decision-making techniques), the formation of advisory boards and mentoring relationships (to observe and come alongside entrepreneurs to forewarn of possible pitfalls or pending dangers and working through solutions strategies to avoid them), and service offerings of affordable consultancies (providing the guidance and information entrepreneurs may not otherwise get but at fees considerably below local market rates).

VIII.        Marketplace Ministries Advocacy and Mobilization (A&M)

These efforts are designed to expand the awareness and engagement of Christian marketplace practitioners at-large. These ministries work extensively on business outreach models, information gathering and sharing, theological and biblical exegesis, and thought leadership. Some of this work is being doing through or in conjunction with educational institutions (Bible colleges and seminaries) through standard coursework or supplemental institutes. Some of this work is being done through denominational and missions organizations, and a few interdenominational permanent and virtual think tanks which stage conferences and seminars, develop teaching materials, and publish in print and on line, including webinars. Some efforts are aimed directly at activating “the pew” while others concentrate more on the influence of the Christian faith by teaching in areas of economic and political philosophy that Christians can be better equipped as informed and active voters, consumers, political activists, and so on..

IX.             Microfinance Initiatives (MFI)

Most of these programs work among the very poor globally but domestic (U.S.) programs are expanding to provide access to credit for very small enterprises. The vast majority of loans range from $500.00 to $5,000.00 to entrepreneurs to purchase basic equipment and starting inventories. Two primary models are currently spreading around the world: community-based credit unions (including both credit extension and savings accounts) and lending institutions providing capital funds. Both can serve to help underwrite the launch of very small (micro-) businesses. The latter have found a great deal of success by working through peer-lending groups (typically featuring predominant women membership) to encourage accountability and provide safety nets in the case of a business failure or illness. Availability of additional loans to group members hinge on all outstanding loans being current on repayment schedules. Microfinance can be very labor intensive and do charge market interest rates but have proliferated since their introduction more than thirty years ago.

X.               Business for Mission (BFM)

These ministries are designed to provide a variety of capital resources to small business development (either start-up or early round financing) in poor economies. The biggest impact of these efforts is the injection of capital funds into poor contexts, whether rural villages or poor urban neighborhoods. These projects and initiatives are applicable in both developing global economies as well as among the rural and urban poor in developed economies. The potential of these projects will be enormously impacted by being conjoined to coaching / mentoring relationships to help ensure the success of new businesses. In any case, some may be businesses created strictly as revenue streams (for sustainable funding for not-for-profit efforts) while others may be formed as venture lending funds or social venture investment funds, both of which could be classified as “smart aid,” that is, increasing capacity in poor contexts by strengthening capital availability and movement within them.

XI.             Christian Community Development Corporations (CDC)

These organizations have traditionally been grant-based to fund their initiatives focused on the quality of formal primary and secondary education in inner cities, the dispersal of social services, family counseling, child and healthcare education and so on. Given their holistic focus, many are now beginning to address the need for jobs and small business development in their neighborhoods, including subsidiary businesses to provide ongoing revenue streams for the agencies themselves.

CDC’s feature three significant distinctive. First, they tend to focus on very targeted geographies, such as a particular cohesive urban neighborhood, or as may be becoming the case, on larger geographic regions involving the rural poor, such as distinct regions of the Appalachian Mountain Range. Second, CDC’s have historically been predominantly operational in Western developed economies but their design and influence is expanding globally and their principles and practices put in place an increasing variety of locations and contexts. But the dramatic rise – predominantly through the growth and influence of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA) – has been in the United States and aimed at economic redevelopment of inner city neighborhoods. Finally, CDC’s take a holistic approach, as hinted in the paragraph above, concerned with all aspects of the target area including but not limited to issues of governance, taxation, education, infrastructure, social services, and economic development.

David Doty

Eden’s Bridge, Inc.

1 Comment

Filed under Faith in the Marketplace

Does Kingdom Growth Illuminate a Market Model?

As I was reading in 1 Samuel this morning, I was intrigued with the events surrounding Jonathan’s confrontation with the Philistines (Chapter 14). What unfolds is paralleled in the birth and growth of the Church through the ages if we think of the participants who joined the fray against the Philistines along the lines of how successful products, services, or campaigns are adopted. In effect, this demonstrates the power of one person walking with God and the multiplying effects adhering to God’s will (in keeping with the creation model of  all things producing after their own kind and multiplying to fill the earth).

Jonathan knew the character of God and knew that if it were God’s will, he would find success in going up against the Philistines. He asserts that “Nothing restrains the Lord from saving by many or by few” – 1 Samuel 14:6. In effect, Jonathan knew, if his plan was aligned with God’s will, there was nothing that could stand against it. But, in the first part of the story, there is a big “if.” Like Gideon laying out a fleece, or the priests casting lots by the Thummim and Urim, Jonathan establishes a set of conditions by which he will recognize the will of God: “If they say to us, ‘Wait until we come to you,’ then we will stand still in our place and not go up to them. But, if they say thus, ‘Come up to us,’ then we will go up. For the Lord has delivered them into our hand, and this will be a sign to us” – 1 Samuel 14:9-10.

Thus, Jonathan is, as he waits on the Lord’s leading (in the Philistines’ response in verse 12), an inspired Innovator, willing to take on the risk (another big market issue, especially for product designers and entrepreneurs) of faith. As he wades into the Philistines, his armor bearer “came after him” (v. 13), an Early Adopter. Next, apparently according to God’s whole plan, Saul and the people with him joined the battle (v. 20) as the Early Majority, and those Israelites living amongst the Philistines joined in (v. 21) as the Late Majority. Finally, those who had fled in fear of the Philistines to, and now living in, the hills, come out to also join the fray as Laggards (v. 22).

Interestingly, this same model can be overlaid on the history of the Church. Jesus is Lord, Savior, and Innovator of the Kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.” His disciples were the Early Adopters and the early Church, gathered on the Day of Pentecost in the Upper Room were the Early Majority. Those coming to Christ in the centuries since I would label as the Late Majority. I can only imagine the Laggards to be those who have heard the Gospel but resisted God then finally come to Christ late in life, or perhaps those within the Church who, as Paul puts it, are still sustained by milk, unable to eat the meat of the Gospel, living with an outward, sacrificial focus, doing the works (of James’ infamous concern) that Jesus taught glorify God (Matthew 5:16).

The intriguing thing to me is that this model, which has proven to be the case in the marketplace throughout history (and political science, education, medicine, and probably every other significant field of endeavor if examined closely) seems to be a natural ordering within creation of human society and human behavior. It is just the way it works without humanly designed  intervention or intention and it works similarly to the natural, predictable workings of the laws of physics, the botanic life-cycle, and so on.

What does this mean to us as we examine the business-as-mission / marketplace ministries movement? While Jesus was a carpenter and drew heavily on economic analogies in his teaching, perhaps we can still credit Paul, as a tentmaker, fully integrating his vocational life of work and ministry, as the biblical marketplace ministries Innovator. I suspect that that integration did not completely disintegrate (or at least nearly so) until the European age of Enlightenment and the rise of scientism in the last five hundred years, as there have been working missionaries (a redundancy) throughout the history of the Church. In any case, then I would suggest that those intentionally ministering through the mechanisms of the marketplace today are the Early Majority as we are witnessing the early groundswell of where we all suspect this movement is headed.

In the end, the whole of creation will be redeemed and the marketplace, as a subsidiary function within creation, will follow suit as 1) the wealth of the unrighteous will be given over to the righteous (Proverbs 13:22) and 2) as economic justice emerges from the redemption of the marketplace, sin will be diminished, and swords and spears (instruments of division and strife) will be pounded into plowshares and pruning hooks (instruments of Garden productivity and economic prosperity) – Isaiah 2:4.

The Law, the Prophets, and the teachings of Jesus focus heavily on the moral issues of economic justice, not the least of which is just scales (Proverbs 16:11), but are also concerned deeply about the welfare of the poor and marginalized and the injustice of selfish wealth. The current global social consciousness, just trade movement, even outside the Church, is demonstrative of the movement of God’s Spirit in the marketplace in terms of social enterprise, responsible consumerism, and such. The Church has the opportunity to fulfill the highest purpose of business in creation and mission, that of glorifying God. As thought and action leaders in marketplace ministries, we have the opportunity to influence and actuate the impact of the Late Majority as they join the fray as Christ-followers, doing so with the higher cause of practicing business as a means of grace to reveal the character and nature of God working in and through us such that kindness of God will draw many to repentance (Romans 2:4) . . . even Laggards.

4 Comments

Filed under Faith in the Marketplace

The Crux of Christian Business Ethics

As I have taken part in the Lausanne Global Business as Mission (BAM) Think Tank and indulged in countless conversations concerning God’s movement in the marketplace through a myriad of other connecting opportunities, I am struck that most of us have become so enamored with the complexities of modern society and the modern marketplace that we tend to over think and over complicate how we might do business as Christians.

Personally, I am highly in favor of reductionism, even if we must, from time to time, endure pithiness when it comes to tackling the whole wide world of business as a field of Christian mission. For example, I have been trying to isolate the various models and forms of marketplace ministries. Thus far, including those who are operating from “the outside” as advocates, I have identified eleven major model categories. The substrata of those categories stretches to something near thirty five distinct practices. Now, I can compile that list, annotate it with detailed descriptions of each function, and cite organizational examples for each one. Frankly, it would not take much for me to throw in some foundational material on the theologies of work, stewardship, and the marketplace and compile a book length treatment that might be handy for missions agencies and local church mission committees to explore how they can take any number of different paths into the marketplace to build relationships and evangelize.

But now, in keeping with Jesus’ willingness to also be a reductionist when he reduced virtually all of the Law and the Prophets to two commands then asserted one new one, in effect, to supersede even those: “Love one another as I have loved you” – I hope to assert that there is a very simple approach to addressing business ethics and practices that will simplify many, many discussions, or at the very least, provide a consistent foundation and launch point for making business decisions.

I find reductionism also in keeping with the soundest of all business principles, the singular most important lesson any management wannabe should learn as early as possible in their management career: K.I.S.S. – Keep it simple, stupid. Now Jesus never really called us stupid because it would have been enormously out of character but perhaps it was somewhat tongue in cheek when he referred to his followers as sheep, undeniably one of the most simple-minded of all God’s creatures.

Lest I offend, please be aware that as I share my own reductionist theory on what “Christian business” looks like, I am coming at this from a very personal tack. I am an information junkie and tend to collect way more material than I can ever read or digest thoroughly. I have had to come to a personal practice of reductionism to make sense of a world that is confronted with the bizarre proliferation of information that is taking place around us. I cannot make sense of the world if I consider anything in too much depth, hence the limitations of things like doctoral degrees that restrict their holders to narrow fields of specialty. I, being of a free spirit to a fault of too often lacking real discipline, find myself wandering down rabbit trail after rabbit trail, finding my way back to some center point, then becoming distracted once again by another interesting topic that just might have some tangential input to some other tangent running aimlessly around within the neural networks of my cranium. But I digress…

The question I would pose is this: what guiding thought can I engage that will allow me to take all that I have learned in my faith walk as a Christian and bringing it to bear quickly, simply, and effectively in operating as a Christian business leader?

We can throw pithy answers at that question and say things like asking ourselves in every instance, “What would Jesus do?” and actually, that is not a bad approach, especially if we find ourselves in doubt as to what Jesus would do and take the time out of our schedule to ask for his guidance. Some might also say that when it comes to making business decisions we should always be guided by the “law of love,” which is also a good answer . . . if we can just define exactly what we mean by love.

But it is within those two answers that I think a very satisfying, formulaic approach can be found. First, every decision is informed by our relationship with God, and second, the essence of that particular God is defined as love. In other words, our decisions are based in real time vital relationship to the God who defines how love acts and our answer emerges that we should always follow the Way of the Cross, rather the definitive act of God intervening in human history since creation.

Now, that might seem to be as vague as “What would Jesus do?” or being guided by the law of love but the Cross gives us the example of the character and nature of the God who stands behind it and the one who hung upon it.

To help us understand the God who is love and how the Cross is an expression of that love we need to take a minute and understand why the Cross occurred. The operative word we are pursuing (via this convoluted journey) is righteousness. That may seem a bit out of place given we are just now discussing the Cross, which must surely be the most unrighteous event in human history, and indeed it was. But, the problem with that is we having already overstepped and framed the Cross as an event isolated to human history. It may well have been unintentional on our part but that is what we have done.

Let us take that same event and frame it in the divine approach to God’s mission in the world. We recognize the omniscience of God and so understand that God knew the Cross would occur even before the creation of the world. But God took an extra step that ensured the Cross would happen . . . he made a promise to Abraham that through him, that is, by his seed, God would provide the corrective stroke to set right the corruption of sin that entered creation when Adam chose the course of moral self-determination. Adam chose to disobey God but his disobedience, just as surely as the Cross, came as no surprise to God.

God committed his Son, our Savior, to the Cross, knowing it was the fulfillment of a covenant he swore by himself to deliver the descendants of Abraham from the throes of that sin corruption. The Cross was, and only from the divine perspective, an act of righteousness. But this understanding of righteousness must embrace the character and nature of God whose glory cannot be contained within the godhead itself. The glory of God is always in outward motion, extending itself for the sake of the other. A fundamental purpose in creation is to reveal God’s glory, that is, the (literally) overwhelming goodness that emanates from divine love, “spilled over” into creation.

So, the Christian business operator operates business, not of their own accord nor for their own benefit but as a manifestation of the glory of God, that same outward movement of goodness acting by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit indwelling the Christian business operator. Ultimately, following perfectly in the example of Jesus’ ministry on the Cross, the Christian business operator takes no mind of their own benefit in making their business decisions but, entrusting those decisions and the outcomes to God, makes decisions always to benefit others as witness to that same “other-oriented” glory.

The Christian business operator does not face the same challenges as a worldly operator and may even find themselves on the outs if the values and demands of worldly stakeholders are enforced and take precedence over God’s determination of righteousness, which is demonstrated by the “power” giving itself freely away for the sake of the powerless. Frankly, many Christian business executives are being challenged every day to follow Christ, which may mean a venue change for their particular desk, if you catch my drift, or to follow the world.

For most employees, however, the choice is much simpler than it is perhaps in the executive suite since the New Testament commends us to obey authority, and even the ornery type. That is not to say that Christian workers should take part in overtly immoral activity per se and the discernment of when it is appropriate to speak out against certain practices may come with great difficulty, and at great price. But even in those situations, where livelihood hangs in the balance, there may well come times to step out, in the name of righteousness and in faith that God does not call his people to demoralizing, ungodly circumstance. Faith tells us that we may be Daniels, on the carpet but able to prove our ways, the ways of God, better in the long run. And God does tell us to pray for the “city” of our exile so it will go well for us even there.

Christian business owners have the greatest latitude to exercise righteousness because it is their own livelihood they sacrifice or put at risk but even in that position, there may come times when the owner must suspend business simply because no other course will align with the righteousness of God.

So the simple rule is this: Act according to the righteousness of God. Any other decision criteria leads down a slippery slope. I know, I have fallen on that slope myself more than once and the lessons involved were hard to learn but well worth it. Ours is not an easy path, especially as we strive to integrate our Christian faith with our workplace ethics and decision making, but it is a path that leads to glory . . . but only as we choose to glorify God according to his righteousness.

 

 

9 Comments

Filed under Faith in the Marketplace

The Fields of Harvest

“Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest” – Matthew 9:37-38.

If we think about it much at all, we soon realize Jesus used economic analogies throughout his ministry. One reason is rather obvious: we all understand economics even if we do not understand the high language of the study of economics. Jesus compares the fulfillment of the Great Commission and the purpose of the Five-fold Gifts (to grow the Church – Ephesians 4:11-13) to a workaday endeavor. We all understand what workers are: they are people who put forth productive effort. We all understand what harvest is: it is the gathered fruit of productive effort.

For centuries, the Church has missed the opportunity to gather the harvest in the most abundant field of all: the marketplace. That is not to say there have not been plenty of examples in history of Christians connecting lives and ministering through workplace relationships. But, it is generally accepted among those studying and working within God’s movements in the marketplace that there has been little intentionality in engaging the marketplace as 1) a created institution in God’s original design, 2) as an enormously good and therefore redemptive institution in human experience, and 3) as a particular field bursting in abundance, beyond ready for harvest.

Let’s work through those three points in reverse order. The first question we might ask is “how is the marketplace ‘bursting’ in evangelical potential”?  There are several key factors that lead to that conclusion but the top one is the pervasiveness of the marketplace. There is simply no more pervasive institution in global society. Every person in every nation and town is connected through the global marketplace. It is a web of relationships and Christian witness, or any other kind of witness for that matter, occurs most poignantly through direct relationships. Not only do our human connections in the marketplace afford the opportunity to share the Gospel verbally but work performance in every ethical nuance demonstrates the underlying values and purposes of the worker. Our motivations, our words, and our actions do not always align and people perceive the difference between those who are only in it for themselves and those who serve higher purposes. And as we are all too often painfully aware, our actions nearly always speak with more authority than our words.

A particular example comes to mind from my own experience. My wife and I had a small retail business for several years. We started out in a side street, hole-in-the-wall location renting from a man many in the community warned us to stay away from. But he had the space we needed at a price we could afford and nothing in our initial dealings with him gave any indication that we would suffer from a relationship with him so long as we abided by the terms of our lease agreement. At one point, we experienced a clogged drain. The landlord reminded us that fixing it was our responsibility according to the lease. I was willing to unclog it myself but needed access to the building’s basement so he would, at the very least, have to come and let me in. I asked him if he also had a drain snake I could borrow to clear the drain.

When he came, he brought the tools and went into the basement with me. Before I could make a move to correct the problem, he ascended a small ladder, opened a drain connection, and ran the power snake to clear the drain. Unfortunately there was a fair amount of “nastiness” backed up in the drain that, when it cleared, gushed out of the open connector and fairly well covered him in sewage. When all was said and done, he turned to me and said, “I wasn’t going to do this for you but you’re such a [expletive deleted] nice guy.” What was it that made me “such a nice guy?” I was not contentious about the problem, I paid my rent on time, and I never questioned him about his reputation. How simple was that? To this day, if we see him on the street when we return for visits, he meets us as a friend and we know that our love for him has been received and felt simply in our appreciation of his dignity as one created in the image of God.

The relationships we establish via marketplace connections may range from casual encounters with baggers and cashiers at the grocery store to longstanding customer, vendor, boss, employee, landlord, etc. relations. In every case, we can make their worth to us known by simply appreciating them, being kind and generous, and, when God opens the door, sharing their value to God by telling them of the Truth of Jesus Christ and God’s grace extended to them.

The second item above is recognizing the function and good purposes the marketplace fulfills in human experience. The marketplace is often derided as a cutthroat environment of vicious competition but competition is only a superficial characteristic of the market. Even at that, competition helps keep innovation moving forward, prices in check (undermining monopolistic dominance and manipulation), and education forward-looking to stay apace with technological advancement. However, the fundamental nature of the marketplace is cooperative since it is the division of labor, which compels companies and workers toward specialization and collaboration, which creates the opportunities for exchange. Such division allows individuals and workers to excel in particular disciplines and increase efficiencies and sophistications within them as they know they can acquire ancillary goods and services from other entities.

Bakers need not raise cattle, harvest rawhide, and make shoes to protect their own feet if they can focus on bread making and trade some of their product to Florsheim or Nike. Their margins increase with the efficiencies gained by increasing output at decreasing margins of additional costs. All that said, the marketplace creates the opportunity for workers and their communities to flourish more abundantly the more complex and interconnected their economic societies become.

The marketplace also allows workers to pursue specialized fields of work in keeping with their particular gifts and talents. Few engineers want to teach English literature and medical doctors are little inclined to perform oil changes to make money. Gifts vary by degree and nature and each person is most fulfilled by pursuing the specialties of their highest interests and capacities. A complex, diverse marketplace allows much more opportunity for finding satisfying work than economies of less sophistication. Markets working well effectively help make societies both wealthier and happier.

But this brings us back to point number one: the marketplace as an institution created by God. Oddly enough, as we pursue knowing God and his ways, many find the most profound truths are ultimately expressed simply. There is nothing more fundamental to sound theology than to understand the essential nature of God is love. Complications come into the conversation when we try to make how God’s love toward us works out complicated. (I am reminded of the management adage: K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple, Stupid).

The abundance of the created order provides amply enough to feed, cloth, and house every man, woman, and child on the planet. The causes of poverty – economic oppression, bad politics, sloth – are all rooted in the selfishness of sin. It is rather simple math to figure out we could provide basic provision and protections for everyone if we would simply muster the political will to make it so. But we do not and so it is not so. But the fault does not lie at the feet of the market but rather at the feet of sinful market practitioners (including self-centric politicians leveraging economic relationships to maintain highly favorable lifestyles and social positions).

The marketplace is fundamentally good as it provides the opportunity for blessing all people. That it does not is not the fault of the mechanism anymore than it is the fault of the hammer if we strike our thumb instead of the nail’s head. The marketplace is merely a tool to serve much higher purposes. Only in recent history has the theology of the marketplace come into academic conversation. Some argue that its purposes are solely to provide work to accommodate the necessities of life and meaningful work (Van Duzer), relegating it to purely utilitarian status. I have argued, however, that, while it provides both those, its higher purposes are 1) to glorify God (as is the first purpose of all creation so therefore all subordinate functions and institutions within it), and 2) to bring many sons (and daughters) to glory (Hebrews 2:10) as a fundamental arena to learn and practice holiness through our economic relationships, given that the market is a core function of human experience.

The questions arise, then, 1) is the marketplace, as an institution, intended in creation, and 2) what evidence points toward it in Scripture? Genesis 2:15 – “Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.” – has been the launch point of many treatises on theologies of work and stewardship, both integral to the implementation of a market economy and the facilitation of market relationships. However, as those who through time have chosen to live “off the grid” have found, it is possible to work and to steward one’s resources in virtual seclusion. While there is an element of relationship with God, whether recognized or not, in such a lifestyle, humankind, created in the relationally-equal image of the Trinity, was not made to withdraw from its own kind. Rather, humankind was created to live in mutually-beneficial relationships.

Eve is introduced into the Garden narrative in a complementary role that serves the obvious purpose of procreation but is called co-worker before wife. In fact, God’s first assertion of her role is that of one who will help Adam prosper by the division of labor. But we tend to think even of that division of labor primarily in material terms, that Adam’s work could be subdivided making it more efficient and productive. However, the nature of relationship within the godhead is also bestowed upon the new race and the holiness of the divine relationships is implied. That is, the deference of humility and the practices of righteousness are to pervade human relationships just as they do between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The economic exchanges anticipated in creation, the core functionality of what I would venture to be the majority of our interconnections with the rest of humankind (beyond family, friendship, religious affiliation, and such) and our environment, were to be demonstrably infused with the defining characteristic of the divine personae: holiness.

If economic exchanges are of such significance, both in practice and in the design of creation, they offer untold opportunity for witness by the intentional practice of the Church. Informing those relationships for Christ-followers should be of utmost importance to spiritual leaders. Practicing righteousness, sacrificially in keeping with the humility of the Cross, for the benefit of the marginalized (the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the immigrant), should be recognized not just for the opportunity to “share” and reveal the glory of God, but also as the natural outcome of being transformed into the very image of Christ on the Cross.

Whole segments of the Church of late have largely abandoned the ideas of social, economic, and environmental justice, absurdly claiming that only by proclamation is the Word made known. That is utter nonsense in light of the Bible’s repeated claims that even nature reveals the glory of God. That is, trees, the stars and mountains, the cycles of life, death, and life in perpetuity, and tall grass waving in a summer breeze, all have something to say about God’s goodness. The love of God is manifest all around us but is most revealed in our serving others. We have not harvested as we should because we have resorted too often to “be warm and well fed” (James 2:16) without tangible consideration of the others’ material needs for survival and proliferation.

To reap the rich harvest of souls in our globalized world, one growing in wealth but plagued by disparity of distribution and access to opportunity, the Church must act according, not to principles or commands, but the nature and character of God. We must bend the back in service and, perhaps even more importantly, put our money where our mouth is, providing funds, information, guidance, and time to ensure the harvest is not lost, investing in helping provide a better life for the “other,” as tangible witness to the transforming power of Jesus Christ, in us individually and corporately and in human society at-large.

6 Comments

Filed under Faith in the Marketplace

Why Eden’s Bridge?

The title of my book, Eden’s Bridge, may seem obscure given that I do not explain it plainly in that text. But the name has relevance on a couple of levels. About a year before I finished my master’s degree in World Mission and Evangelism at Asbury Theological Seminary (Wilmore, Kentucky), I began to seek the Lord’s direction for what would come after. Having been in business, one of the two most apparent options was to start or buy another small business. The other option was to continue my studies and pursue a doctoral degree. Interestingly, everywhere I turned asking, “Should I do ‘A’ or should I do ‘B,’ the answer was always ‘Yes.’”

Admittedly, that was a bit confusing so I continued to pray. The impression that I eventually held was that I needed to do both, an admittedly formidable prospect. In any case, a year after graduation, my wife and I launched our third business enterprise but I continued to read and research in my spare time. Three years into that endeavor, the business failed amidst the economic collapse and I suddenly found myself with time on my hands. I revisited the idea of pursuing a doctoral degree and was met by the fact that I did not have the financial resources to do it. But I also encountered two professors, one a mentor and one a friend, who both recommended that rather than pursue the degree, I should simply write a book.

As I studied, I found that there had been a fair amount of scholarship on theologies of work and theologies of stewardship (both grounded in Genesis 2:15) but there was little, and that typically superficial, written on the theology of the marketplace. I also repeatedly was confronted by a divide between Christian commitment by Church members and how they perceived and practiced business. It was reminiscent of a conversation from years past when I attended a United Methodist Church in Crawfordsville, Indiana.

I had been invited to take part in presenting a three-part series of adult Sunday school lessons on the Holy Spirit. The other two participants were the church’s youth pastor, who was raised on the mission field in Venezuela, and a particularly charismatic friend who came from the ranks of a non-denominational church but found himself led to join the United Methodist Church.

The charismatic friend gave his testimony the first week before the assemblage of all the adult Sunday school classes plus the high school class. His testimony was deeply related to his experience of the Holy Spirit as an active agency in his life and his previous church life. When he finished speaking, I realized he had, in effect, presented half the material I had prepared for the third week of this lesson series. The second week, our youth pastor shared how his upbringing in the Wesleyan tradition was all about knowing and following the Bible with little or (seemingly) no interaction with the voice of the Holy Spirit. You may have just guessed that, when he finished, I turned to my wife and said, “He just gave the second half of my material. I need to build the bridge between the two.”

After Sunday school, on the way to the sanctuary, the woman who oversaw the adult Sunday school program stopped me in the hall, took hold of my arm and said, “You know what you have to do. You have to build the bridge between the two.” I went home, scrapped all my material and started afresh.

Just so, God spoke to my heart about building a bridge of marketplace theology that would help the pulpit and the pew reconnect on the spirituality of the marketplace. I set out to overcome that divide between Sunday morning and Monday morning, to build a bridge between “doing business” and “following Jesus.”

So, confronted with such a challenge, I wanted to know more about God’s agenda concerning business. Somewhere along the way of several years’ research, I became convinced that “business” was God’s doing, that is, business was a created institution, something God intended from the beginning. If that were to prove true, I surmised, the evidence was surely locked away somehow in the creation narrative of Genesis1-2. So, I went looking.

What struck me first was the economic impact of many of the created elements – the sun for primary energy, land for plant production and grazing, time as a measure of dividing activities, seasons, and so on. But the hinge came when I “discovered” that Eve was created from the notion of Adam needing a “suitable helper,” a co-worker. The division of labor, which implies cooperation, and encourages collaboration and specialization, is the fundamental building block of market economics, of doing business. Many argue that exchange is the foundation but you must have exchangers, and them agreeing to exchange, before that activity takes place.

So, there I had it. The name Eden’s Bridge emerged from the context of the biblical and theological origins of business – created in Eden – and clarifying the connection – the bridge – between God’s purposes for and means within creation for 1) glorifying himself, 2) bringing many sons (daughters) to glory by providing the cooperative, worshipful (in the sense of koinonia) opportunity of social cohesion, that is, a place to practice holiness in community, and 3) providing the elements necessary to sustain human life and to bless it in abundance.

3 Comments

Filed under Faith in the Marketplace

Marketplace Ministry Resource Development

One of the undertakings of the Lausanne Business-as-Mission Think Tank is to build a resource list of courses, web sites, journals, blogs, etc. that provide useful information to inform best practices, theology, and connections within the BAM Movement. I have recently become a bit familiar with one well-developed site / program that I wanted to share simply because it is so well done it provides a lot of what needs to be provided but it also serves as the model of excellence we should all pursue in serving the poor, or any other of our undertakings. Kudos to Drs. Peter Heslam, Flint McGlaughlin, Rick Goossen, and Mr. John Kay.

Check out the Transforming Business initiative of Cambridge University at http://www.transformingbusiness.net/.

Leave a comment

Filed under Faith in the Marketplace

Bring It!

(This essay was originally drafted as a two-part devotional teaching.)

“Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven’” – Matthew 6:9-10.

When we pray “The Kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth…,” the things of God, our spiritual concerns, become imminently practical. Too often we hear preaching that leads us to think we must find ways to escape the world. But Jesus came into the world to actuate God’s plan of redemption of all creation, what we normally refer to as the “mission of God,” or missio Dei. We need to embrace the idea of what God is ultimately about in mission as it works out practically.

I spend a lot of time reflecting on the Bible, theological concepts, the history of the Church set within the history of the world. For this season of my life, now spanning ten years, God has had me focused intensely on how the Spirit moves in the marketplace, an institution to which we are all inextricably linked. The marketplace provides for all our needs . . . healthcare, food, housing, clothing, education, and so on. Business pays for everything, so we would be enormously mistaken to think the marketplace is something disconnected from God or outside his concerns.

My twenty two year old son recently started a conversation about the economic situation in the United States, and the world by default, given the increasing integration of national economies into the global economy. Somewhere in the midst of that conversation God spoke to my heart that the poor are the key to the future prosperity of the entire human family.

Right now, we are faced with enormous income disparity and inequitable wealth distribution throughout the world. The poor in highly developed economies, such as the United States, live far better, and longer, than did kings just a few generations past. Unfortunately, however, more than two billion people in the world today live on less than two dollars (USD) per day. Granted, in the economies where these folk live, two dollars buys a lot more than it does in our own but that cannot close the disparity gap, considering the productive output of every man, woman, and child in the United States is over $50,000 versus less than $10,000 in the rest of the world. Even multiplying the two dollars per day by five puts annual output to about $3500 annually, only seven percent of that in the U.S. That means the global poor, more than two billion people, live on less than one percent of the average American!

But, if God were to bless the rest of the world through us, by having us make disciples of all nations (which results in changed attitudes, institutions, and opportunities), and investing in them, and output increased to the levels we experience in the United States, global output would jump by 325% to more than $350 trillion dollars versus the $83 trillion it is today.

Now it may seem odd to discuss economic issues as devotional teaching but if we are seeking to know God and follow him, then we are to be concerned with the things that God is concerned with to understand the good works he has planned for us.

Jesus warned us and admonished us in one statement: “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves” – Matthew 10:16. Luke 16 gives us the parable of the unjust steward in which the unfaithful steward was to lose his job for squandering the wealth of his master. To protect himself financially, the steward then took the accounts of all the master’s debtors and made adjustment sin the debtors’ favor so those folk would be generous to the steward in return once he was out of a job. The master could not have been happy about losing so much income but he admired the craftiness of the steward. Jesus concludes the story, saying “his master praised the unrighteous steward because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light. And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the mammon of unrighteousness; that when it fails, they may receive you into the eternal dwellings” – Luke 16:8-9.

The world system is corrupt and, while we do not remain a part of that corrupt system, we yet live in the world. Jesus is admonishing us to understand how the world works (“making friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness, that is, leveraging money, and even wealth that has previously been created or accumulated by corrupt means) and, by adapting to the world’s systems, not unethically but wisely, turn the world’s wealth toward Kingdom good.

The marketplace is one place we all find common ground. We make, we sell, we buy, we consume. How can we leverage the workings of the marketplace to Kingdom advantage? Much more of our witness to the world will play out in how we behave than by our proclamations about Jesus. But our performance within the world should be informed by the character of God being formed within us. “Doing” emanates from “being.” A dog acts like a dog because it is a dog. The righteous act righteously because their heart is righteous.

By ministering to the poor, whether by donating to immediately alleviate their suffering or investing in them to help them build their own economies, we demonstrate the generous character and provision of God toward creation. When we do that unselfishly, the altruistic, servant heart of Christ is put on undeniable display. That is love in action. When observers ask “why,” we have the opportunity to share out testimony, as Peter exhorts us to “always be ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15), to speak truth in love to the world.

When Jesus stood to read from the scroll in the Temple, he said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor” – Luke 4:18. The Truth of the Gospel does not just change hearts. The Gospel changes circumstances, societies, economies, institutions . . . the Gospel turns the world upside down and re-orients it according to God’s will and ways. The Gospel changes everything!

“Your Kingdom come. Your will be done. On earth . . .” Lord, bring it!

1 Comment

Filed under Faith in the Marketplace

Marketplace Redemption: Acknowledge, Connect, Glorify

The current global economic upheaval presents an opportunity unlike any before in history for the advancement of God’s Kingdom. It is the time that marketplace Christians can witness in word and deed to demonstrate the goodness of God to the world. Given the proliferation of global electronic communications, it may well prove to be the most effective era of evangelism, spreading the Good News of Christ, the Church has ever seen.

There are two simple practices commanded by Christ. These, in part, fulfill the discipleship mandate of the Great Commission, to do all he commands (Matthew 28:19-20), and produce evidence of godly love, that we walk according to his commandments (2 John 1:6).

The first step is public confession of the Lordship of Jesus Christ in our lives. In many places, marketplace Christians may suffer restrictive policies but there are more opportunities than we likely realize to confess Christ. But Jesus says, “Everyone therefore who shall confess Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven” – Matthew 10:32.

When my wife and I owned our bicycle shop, we adorned the front page of our web site with a simple cross right in the middle. If the reader passed their cursor over the cross, it became apparent that it was a link. That link took them to a simple faith statement, proclaiming the salvation of Christ. It was not offensive or in your face but it was effective as we had many people email us to comment on their appreciation that we openly confessed Christ. The ratio of favorable to unfavorable comments was about 200:1 over a five year period. Some might think that we likely lost business due to our testimony and we may well have. But that little business grew from $8,000 in annual revenues in the last year under the previous owner to $638,000 the last full year under our ownership in just nine years. While it may not have been the hand of God contributing to our success, our confession would have been worth it even if it cost us everything in this world.

Business owners have a much greater opportunity to be overt in their public confession but most companies do not have policies against simple, faith-oriented postings within employees’ own work spaces. Even wearing a simple cross on a necklace is making a statement, despite it being largely appropriated by secularists. We have many more opportunities to witness, proclaiming our faith by our actions, living out the character of Christ, than perhaps we do to share our testimony or faith in words. But our behavior should make us standout as the most dutiful, diligent, generous, helpful, and kind workers. Our work should always be identified with the excellence of Christ. Paul asks if we think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” – Romans 2:4. It is these same attitudes and behaviors on our part, especially at work, that will attract others to us into meaningful relationships and open the opportunities to share our faith.

For some reason, we have come to believe that making a statement openly about our Christian faith is a death knell professionally. So?  Jesus preaches, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under the peck-measure, but on the lampstand; and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” – Matthew 5:14-16. The question becomes, which is of greater importance – financial security or obedience to Christ? Following Christ involves more risk than even the edgiest entrepreneurs face in their endeavors but what reward is there in gaining the things of this world? We too easily allow our worldly pragmatism to overwhelm our heavenly faith.

Public proclamation is the first step out of denial: “Hi, my name is Dave and I am a Christian.”

So, step one is lose all shyness about who and what you are as a Christ-follower. Live without fear before the world. What can they really do to you in light of Jesus’ promise that if we will seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness that at the very least our basic needs will be met (Matthew 6:33)? Maybe go so far as to include pertinent information about your faith in the activities and interests section of your resume’ and LinkedIn page!

I believe it is fair to say that without acknowledging God openly and fearlessly, we must question not only the substance of our faith but if we are truly willing to serve God’s Kingdom at all. That may seem harsh or legalistic but it is not. The choices we face are our own to decide upon, and to weigh as to whether we think those are even legitimate criteria for assessing our faith. At the very least, an unwillingness to openly share our faith, not in offensively running over people by preaching at them but in living godly and transparent lives, should at least give us pause to examine the depth and meaning of our Christian faith. If it turns out to not be real or of any other than our first priority before all other things, we are better off to abandon it as a charade than to misrepresent God (Revelation 3:16).

The second step is to put real meat on the bones of our faith. While our works do not in any way provide our salvation, James 2 is pretty clear that if good works are not a significant part of our normal behavior, our faith is dead. Lifeless faith is no faith at all. It has no power and no real impact inwardly or outwardly.

You see, love is not an emotion. It is an attitude that compels action. To love is a choice to serve others. Jesus addressed this frankly: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” – John 13:34. Our actions speak louder than our words and loving one another accomplishes two things. First, truly serving one another by good works glorifies God (Matthew 5:16). Second, and this pertains to loving the Church specifically, it demonstrates to the world that together, in community with one another, we are Christ followers (John 13:35). There is no Christian faith in isolation but only as it is lived out in relationships. An isolated entity cannot be holy. Holiness is a function of interaction, of character in action.

There are substantial results in loving one another within the Church. Israel was called to follow God’s commandments for the very same reason we are: to glorify God, to make him known before the world that all nations would be drawn to him. Why would they come? Deuteronomy 4:6 is telling: So keep and do [my commandments], for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’”

While we are called to love and serve all people of the world, including our enemies, even the very enemies of God, our first allegiance in Christ is to show favor to the Church, God’s people. We can witness to the glory of God in many ways. We can be honest in all our dealings. We can be generous financially in tipping (the difference between a fifteen percent tip and a twenty five percent tip on a thirty dollar meal is just three dollars, three dollars that is unlikely to make any real difference in your own life but may make an enormous difference to a young server just starting out in life or a single mom feeding and clothing her children). We can be generous in wages. We can be generous in sincere praise, encouragement and appreciation of subordinates, co-workers, and even bosses. We can favor other Christian businesses even if our bottom line suffers a bit. Such favor will demonstrate that God takes care of his people by having his people take care of his people.

The marketplace has suffered enormously, just as has every other aspect of human society, due to sin. But the power of God to redeem the marketplace, especially as a powerful witness of his glory, is far greater than our sin. Our sin is finite because we are finite creatures. But the infinite love of God is the pure, victorious love of our infinite God.

The whole purpose of God’s creation is to glorify God. The three Persons of the Trinitarian God, motivated by their essential loving nature, wanted to bestow goodness outside themselves to share the benefits of goodness, as an act of love. The Westminster Short Catechism tells us that the chief end of humanity is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. We can begin anew glorifying God and enjoying him every day as we first extend ourselves in service to the Church, living sacrificially for the sake of others within, as wise and understanding people, then welcoming the world into the fold as the love of God, demonstrated by the shalom community of those in his Kingdom, draws them also to repentance.

2 Comments

Filed under Discipleship, Faith, Faith in the Marketplace

A Hierarchical Theory of Cultural Institutions

This attempt to review the “seven mountains” of culture is, hopefully, to demonstrate to some extent the degree of relevance of each of the meta-institutions in human experience, establishing a hierarchy of influence (or perhaps at least explicate the varying depths of relative or necessary integration of each institution into individual experience and cultural development). Some have suggested a comparison of the seven mountains to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs but there is significant difference between individual experience and the overarching experiences of cultural groups and diverse societies. While institutions tend to operate at the macro- level, trying to discuss them from an individual’s perspective would be somewhat analogous to the conversational disconnect between an economist concerned with trends in international trade and a factory worker or farmer contemplating how to pay for auto insurance. There may be relevant connections between them but too much distance to converse coherently across the concerns and terminology  of completely different perspectives.

The “seven mountains” is a paradigm originally put forth by a group of evangelical Christians in a campaign to compel adherents to carefully consider how they might influence these realms of human experience toward a godly society, at least according to a widely acceptable Christian worldview. I have made one slight adjustment from the original list of seven institutions, re-labeling religion as ideology in recognition that some compelling philosophies are not religious per se, such as secular humanism or Buddhism, in the sense they do not necessarily recognize a particular god or groups of gods as distinct influences on human behavior.

My listing of these core cultural institutions includes business, family, ideology, governance, education, arts / entertainment, and media. This study is an attempt to establish a hierarchy of relevance while recognizing that all these institutions have significant connections to all people but that those connections also vary widely by degrees in individual lives.

I created the diagram below to illuminate the hierarchy I have assigned to the seven institutions of culture. I will attempt to justify the positioning of each institution, working from the outside and moving inwardly. My thesis is that business (specifically, the fruit of production and the increase, or productive gains, which manifests in cooperative and collaborative trade) holds the highest relevance of all the institutions in human experience, perhaps not emotively or spiritually, but practically. However, since practicality is the gears, belts, and fuel by which we live, so to speak, the engine of staying alive, then we must reconcile all these meta-institutions to their role as related to the full nature of being human, that is, in mind, body, and soul.

The outer ring includes media and arts / entertainment. These are important institutions as they are the mechanisms for large-group (at the societal level) communications and self-expression. They are the means by which we give and receive news, oftentimes give and receive instruction, and how we artistically share with one another expressions of values whether visually, audibly, textually, or any combination of all three. These tend to be more integrated into individual experience in the most economically developed societies as the various means of mass electronic communication – television, radio, telephone, Internet – are there most widely available.

The depth of integration of these with the other pillars is easily seen when we think about the news media bringing information about governmental policy issues, public television distributing educational programming to a broad population base, families and friends connecting and communicating through social media, and so on, and how arts / entertainment, as an expressive outlet, lets us examine psychological and emotive responses to social and political conditions.

As said, the media and arts / entertainment functions play a high role in developed and complex societies. They may play a lesser role, at least as meta-institutions, in developing economies and especially amongst those in abject poverty or living under authoritarian regimes or ideological constraints where available news and artistic expression are limited to highly censored news, minimal Internet access, or socially normalized moral codes. Both the media and other mechanisms of arts / entertainment contribute enormously to social, economic, political, and even environmental viability, and can inform and facilitate very important cultural needs like cross-cultural awareness, integration, and tolerance.

Hierarchy of Social Institutions

The next tier, moving inward, includes education and governance. If we can use an analogy of a fish tank to represent a particular cultural context, governance goes a long way to creating a “field of containment,” the tank itself, as an environment conducive to varying degrees of expression and communication and economic development. It also contributes substantially to the shared mindset of social complexity, tolerance, opportunity, etc. Legal institutions may or may not protect and encourage personal safety and well-being, prosperity, and the orderliness of the society. Typically one would expect governance to embrace the collective social view in free societies and the elite social view in authoritarian societies, i.e., it expresses the view of the over arching power structure of the society and the interests of those in control, whether that power is closely held or broadly distributed among the masses.

One expects to find varying restrictions on the general population under monarchical or oligarchic regimes as the governors tend to serve their own welfare, or as benevolent leaders in such systems  produce social and economic conditions quite the opposite. Where power is widely decentralized (specifically in democratic societies) one expects to find greater degrees of personal freedom and opportunities for self-actualization, as citizens work within frameworks of complex legal structures created through representative governance to establish orderly markets and social institutions.

Resorting again to the fish tank analogy, education is likely the oxygen component of the water filling the tank. I will revisit the hydrogen below. It is widely held that education is the fastest track out of poverty. The abilities to obtain, retain, and manipulate data and ideas is inherent in all people. Often, in the environs of the least access to formalized education, these abilities are actuated through peer experience and trial and error (in effect an informal practice of the scientific method posing hypotheses based on prior observation, experimenting, and then synthesizing new observations with other experience).

Education serves a multitude of purposes on a personal and cultural level and, like governmental structures, can make enormous contributions to social well-being, and economic and political development, and, like media and arts / entertainment, can inform and facilitate cross-cultural awareness, integration and tolerance.

Access to education — primary, secondary, collegiate, and post-graduate — varies dramatically according to levels and complexities of economic development. Highly industrialized nations host public and private educational institutions at all four levels. Obviously the diversity of what is available has a high degree of correspondence to the diversity and strength of the surrounding economy, hence large economies typically will host more institutions affording broader opportunities for specialization than smaller, though as economically viable, economies. Education tends to function with a snowball effect. Through time, as students graduate from one level to the next, their inputs into their economic context increase the overall value of that context which in turn can afford to birth greater educational opportunities and so on and so on in an upward cycle.

Education also plays a large role in worldview as students are exposed to the world of ideas, foreign cultures, new technical disciplines, new friends, or educators with varied life experiences, ideologies, and knowledge. Often higher education is very formative of younger students who are moving for the first time away from the environs of family and the religious or philosophical institutions of the family. However, as children are highly formed socially at a very young age and tend to stay closely connected to their families and cultures of origin, it is not likely to prove as influential as the institutions in the next inward tier of the diagram.

Thus far we have delved into the cultural pillars of media, arts / entertainment, governance, and education. History proves that these are long-standing institutions that have evolved toward higher degrees of complexity through time. The forerunners of our modern conceptions of media and arts / entertainment in societies without written language or electronic gadgetry would have taken place in activities like social and religious ritual, storytelling, music, pageantry and such. Governance of isolated tribes may have consisted in hierarchies similar to family structures today with villages operating as autonomous economic units under the auspices of a strong man ruler or a council of elders. Education in agrarian or hunter-gatherer cultures would have been largely through intergenerational and peer teaching and experience sharing.

That said, these institutions have been vital cultural components of human history for organizing interdependent and / or interactive social groups. But they still function peripherally, to a degree, by comparison to the vitality of the remaining three institutions: family, ideology, and business. Nomadic tribes survived with informal (largely undocumented or absent complex structures) methodologies in these first four institutions for thousands of years before the invention of written language (though hieroglyphs, especially cave drawings, as conceptual expression through symbology certainly support the notion of very early starting points), the invention of governing documents of covenants and creeds, and formal education for training.

The third inward tier includes family and ideology. These are highly formational and central institutions given the importance of nurture of the young in both physical and social well-being and the relationships between the family structure and the other institutions of the surrounding culture. Family and core philosophies, mythologies and religions, learned most often inter-generationally, form the basis of one’s relationship to the reality outside one’s self, and of the concept of conscious life itself. In the fish tank analogy, I would tend to equate ideological development and retention to the hydrogen in the water as it largely informs self-concept…who or what am I in the context of reality…a defining function in social development and involvement.

From such philosophic beginnings and coupled with both individual and, more predominantly, group experience, ideology helps frame value systems and morality. Behaviors are chosen and their acceptability within society learned through the varying direction or responses by other actors. The foundations of functional ideology are laid in the normal operation of the family during early childhood development. Hence the family and its core philosophies, and then the dominating ideologies of the surrounding culture, help lead the child into social cohesion where functional place, the individual’s roles in trade, politics, and the other communal institutions, can be discovered and entered into.

Attitudes on display and learned in the family, and early ideological exposures define the relationship one has with the self, with others, with nature, and with the divine. These are powerful influences and notions that have lifelong meaning, whether they are accepted or rejected. The family is also the first level of socialization, the foundational step in the path to self-actualization. In effect, our families and our ideologies define who we are and our responses, whether emotional, rational, or a combination of both, to life events.

Finally: it may seem odd to think that business is at the very heart of human institutions but, coincidental with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, business, as the provider of basic human physical needs, is an issue of survival, proliferation, and physical well-being. Where the other institutions are influential in informing attitudes, choices, and actions, which can vary widely in application, sustenance is fundamental to staying alive. The provision of sustenance (water and food) and physical protection (warmth, shelter, sleep) are largely made available and sought in market mechanisms and participation. This is a reality of being social animals working cooperatively and collaboratively to increase well-being, raising the standards of the quality of life. It is through the basic economic mechanisms of the division of labor, specialization, collaboration, and exchange that we typically meet the most fundamental of our needs (other than air) for survival.

This points to the marketplace primarily as a realm of essential social cohesion – relationship valued for advantageous communal survival and proliferation – before it becomes the place for individual financial gain. It is through amicable, cooperative social cohesion that we best facilitate the most desirable states of life: peace and prosperity, in effect, shalom. Market exchanges facilitate increased efficiency in providing the fundamental necessities of life, creating new wealth and the opportunity to formalize all the other meta-institutions. Business “pays for” family (household provision), supports the priesthoods of ideology, funds the workings of governance, makes formal education available, creates the cultural leisure necessary to advance the arts and entertainment, and drives the technological development of ever-broadening means and reach of communication. Our exchanges underwrite all that is good in human society, even while tolerating coercion, greed, and self-aggrandizement.

The centrality of business has largely been neglected in the sense of its foundational function in human experience, especially in most mainstream ideological doctrines and expressions. To understand the role of business as central to the human social contract, its potential for deepening social cohesion (peace), and its ability to provide sufficiently for the entire human family (prosperity) would prove a commendable pursuit in the theory and practices of all the other core institutions.

I believe, though it is generally unspoken, the well-being of the whole community (the common good) has been the compelling force of the market throughout history, before personal financial gain, which has taken stronger hold with the increased autonomy and egocentrism motivated by the ideologies and psychological impacts of Western individualism and capitalism. The economic interdependence of individuals and nations (community), given the abundance of global wealth and growing awareness of disparities of economic stability, is now motivating much of the rising current of social venture mentality and initiatives. Business has always been a force for good almost in spite of human involvement toward self-interest. In fact, the highest levels of self-interest can only be achieved in the mutual interest of market participation.

Copyright David B. Doty, 2012.

4 Comments

Filed under Faith in the Marketplace